BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Robert Leckie, in your lifetime, how many books have you written?
ROBERT LECKIE, AUTHOR, "OKINAWA: THE LAST BATTLE OF WORLD WAR II": About 40.
LAMB: When did you start?
LECKIE: When I was 16. I loved football. I wanted to play football, but my father wouldn't let me, and now I have a theory that the knock of opportunity is a hard rap because not being allowed to play football, although I played basketball on a state championship team, I began to cover it, and that was the beginning of my career.
LAMB: After 40 books, how come a book on Okinawa?
LECKIE: Well, for one reason, my friend, Al Silverman, the editor, is an old friend of mine and he wanted a book on Okinawa and he wanted it this size, and I gave it to him and I think that that is one of the assets of this book, is that it's short and it's compressed.
LAMB: What was Okinawa?
LECKIE: Okinawa was most sought after by both sides for the reason that the Japanese did not know that we were making an atomic weapon and that we had not yet made it workable. We wanted it for a staging area. It was 60 miles long, 18 miles wide, as wide as--two miles narrow at its narrowest. It could have been a base with dozens of airfields, two huge anchorages, Inagushi and one which was later called Buckner Bay, and it was only 375 miles from Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan. Japan w--wanted to destroy the American invaders, and so Admiral Onishi, who was off the--in--in the battle of kamikaze.
Now kamikaze means `divine wind,' as I'm sure you know, but at the end of the
13th century, Kublai Khan, the Mongol emperor of China, grandson of the great
Genghis Khan, assembled two invasion fleets to conquer Japan. Both times--10
years apart--both times, a typhoon rose, scattered and sank the fleets. So
the Japanese called it kamikaze, meaning `divine wind,' and it was a gift from
the sun goddess, from whom the imperial Japanese family is supposed to have
But anyway, with this new weapon and 110,000 men under Lieutenant General
Ushijima, the 32nd Japanese army and especially with the kamikaze, they were
going to destroy the US Navy so they could come no closer to Japan. And so
they began what was called the Special Attack Corps, and these were young
boys, many of them brave and dedicated. They knew nothing about flying. They
flew old, decrepit crates from which even the instruments had been
stripped down, in which there were no guns. All they had was the bomb. They
learned enough to fly to their target, led by the conventional fighter planes.
They didn't expect them to learn how to return because they weren't supposed
to return, you see.
Well, the--one of the troubles with the Japanese character is that failure of
any kind, especially failure in--in a--in a battle or in a war, is expiated
only by taking your own life and especially any failure concerning the enemy.
So that--let's go back to--I--the--oh, you know, the--the big naval battle in
June--June 6th, when Yamamoto attacked--was going to--you know, the--Midway.
All right. They lost three carriers at Midway and so carrier power in the
Pacific returned to equity--four American, four Japanese. But when it began,
there was four Japanese and o--in--in essence--one American, you know. OK.
So on the return journey, Yamamoto locked himself in his cabin and never came
out, and the word `Midway' was never uttered again in the Japanese navy.
Imperial general ho--headquarters, meaning the army, knew about it. Hirohito
knew that there had been a--a great defeat, but neither of them knew the
details, you see. So that these young boys and--and this army and I'm
going to go back to Guadalacanal, where I was. I was with the...
LAMB: Let me--let me interrupt, just ask you, what service were you in?
LECKIE: Marines, 1st Marine Division.
LAMB: And what--and when did you go in the service?
LECKIE: Pearl Harbor Day. But the man said to me--the doctor--now you
may want to edit this out, I don't know, but I'll s--I'll say it. He said,
`I'm going to accept you,' he said, `because you're a fine physical specimen,
except for one thing.' I said, `What's that?' He said, `You'll have to get
circumcised first.' I said, `Circumcised? What do you think I'm going to do
to the enemy?' you know. So he said, `You know something?' He said, `I know
you're going to come back,' and I did, but at least I had Christmas at home
and I went to Parris Island January 5th, all right?
LAMB: On December 7th, 1941, Pearl Harbor Day, you were how old?
LECKIE: Not quite 21, so I--I w--waited until I was 21, which was
LAMB: And where did you live then?
LECKIE: Rutherford, New Jersey, right near the--the Meadowlands and the
big sports complex.
LAMB: And by that time, you'd had five years of writing?
LECKIE: Oh, many more. Sixteen--yeah, yeah, five years. Right. Right.
LAMB: And what had you written at that point? Had you had...
LECKIE: I was a sportswriter, and then I became a feature writer and a
LAMB: Did you have college?
LECKIE: For The Bergen Record--Bergen Record.
LAMB: Did you have college?
LECKIE: No, only after the war--even then, I never liked the
classroom. I never liked the classroom. I despised the classroom mind.
LAMB: So when you went into the Marine Corps, you really had written a lot.
LECKIE: I was a private.
LAMB: You were a--you were a--a journal...
LECKIE: I was a wild kid. I made private four times. I won't discuss
the occasions, but I was a wild kid. The last time they gave me a PFC stripe,
they said, `Now don't lose it this time.' I said to them, `Why did you
put a zipper on it?' you know. So, you know, Smedley Butler said, `Give me
a regiment of brig rats and I'll rule the world.' Brig rats. Yeah.
LAMB: So you went in the day--wherever--the month after Pearl Harbor...
LAMB: ...in January of 1942.
LAMB: When did you go--did you ever see battle?
LECKIE: Oh, no, no, no. We were all very green. We were the most
high-hearted kids you've ever seen. Most of them were--were officer material,
and it's a shame that they tossed them all so early. You--you understand what
I mean. And, no, I had never been in battle. I went to Parris Island, and at
that time, the--the course was shortened from 12 weeks to six weeks, and we
left in May for the West Coast, and we went by Pullman train because my
regiment, the 1st Regiment, and the other regiment, the 5th Regiment--the 5th
Regiment went by sea and was nearly sunk by a submarine. So thereafter, they
took us across the continent. It was a wonderful experience.
LAMB: Yeah, but once you got into the Marine Corps, did you go into battle?
LECKIE: Oh, we went to battle August 7th, 1942, when we landed on
Guadalcanal. And what I was trying to tell you about Guadalcanal is another
failure in the Japanese character in that, of course, they cannot report
defeat, you see. Now the first attack--I was in that battle, the Battle of
the Tenaru, August 7th, 1942. It was on the Tenaru River, and what was
called the Ichaki Detachment--supposed to be a crack detachment, about 2,200
men or more--they attacked my battalion the night of August 20th--21st. We
killed them all. We lost 26. They don't remember those things. We lost 26.
We killed 2,200. And do you know what the commanding general reported to
Tokyo? The attack of the Ichaki Detachment was not entirely successful. So
that's a crippling defect and has existed through all the high command.
LAMB: And you were a private in the Marine Corps?
LECKIE: Yes. Right.
LAMB: You say somewhere early in this book that you thought you were going to
fight by day and write by night?
LECKIE: Yeah, that's funny. Yes. Yes, that's very funny. My
typewriter was in the George F. Elliot, an African slaver, if it was anything
else. They wouldn't even let us paint the thing because if we chipped the
sides, they were afraid the plates would fall off. That's in San Francisco
Bay. But anyway, it was sunk when I landed. Now I'm not sure I am to pretend
that I was aboard it. I wasn't. We were all ashore. But a Zero crashed
amidship. I don't know whether--whether he was the first kamikaze or not.
But anyway, my typewriter was aboard and it sank. And I came home and the
girl next door--I saw her, I fell in love with her, I married her, and I'll
tell you why. She had a Royal typewriter just the same as mine.
LAMB: And that's when you came back after the war.
LECKIE: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: Now early on in this--your book, this--on Okinawa, on page 54...
LAMB: ...you have about a page in which you've set the scene for what it was
like August 7th, 1942.
LAMB: And it's got so much in it. Can you open it up to that page and read
that? D--read the whole thing so we can get a sense of what it was like.
LECKIE: OK. This...
LAMB: When did you write this?
LECKIE: I wrote this when I wrote a book called "Strong Men Armed." It
was published by Random House in 1962, and it was US Marines against Japan,
and I described Guadalcanal and, in this book, what the jungle islands were
like in which all the Americans who fought in them would realize.
LAMB: Where is Guadalcanal located in relationship to Japan?
LECKIE: Well, Guadalcanal is quite far from Japan. It's nothing like
Iwo, 750 miles from Japan; Okinawa, 350. I don't know ha--know how many
thousand miles, but it's in t--the--the farthest of the Solomon Islands, and
they're quite a ways. They're closer to Australia than they are to Japan.
LAMB: So do you remember what age you were when you wrote this book?
LECKIE: Oh, probably just before I went -- no, I'd say about 28, 30, something like that.
LAMB: Years old.
LAMB: So this was about seven or eight years after...
LAMB: What you're about to read is for--seven or eight years after you got in
LECKIE: That's right. Yeah, after I published my first book.
LAMB: Please read it.
LECKIE: `Guadalcanal--she was beautiful seen from the sea, this slender,
long island. Her towering central mountains ran down her spine in a
graceful east-west keel. The sun seemed to kiss her timberline and lay
shimmering on open patches of tan grass, dappling the green of her forests.
Gentle waves washed her beaches white, raising a glitter of sun and water and
s--scoured sand beneath fringing groves of coconut trees leaning languorously
seaward with nodding, star-shaped heads. She was beautiful, but beneath her
loveliness, within the necklace of sand and palm, under the coiffure of her
sun-kissed treetops, with its tiara of jeweled birds, she was a mass of slaps
and stinks and pestilence, of scum-crested lagoons and vile swamps inhabited
by giant crocodiles; a place of spiders as big as your fist and wasps as long
as was your finger, of lizards the length of your leg or as brief as your
thumb, of ants that bit like fire, of tree leeches that fall, fasten and suck,
of scorpions without the guts to kill themselves, of centipedes, whose foul
scurrying across human skin leaves a track of inflamed flesh, of snakes that
slither and land crabs that scuttle, and of rats and bats and carrion and
birds and of a myriad of stinging insects.
`By day, black swarms of flies feed on open cuts and make them ulcerous. By
night, mosquitoes come in clouds, bringing malaria, dengue or any one of a
dozen filthy, exotic fevers. Night or day the rains come, and when it is the
monsoon, it comes in torrents, conferring a moist, mushrooming life on all
that tangled, green of vine, fern, creeper and bush, dribbing on eternally in
the rain forest, nourishing kingly hardwoods so abundantly that they soar more
than 100 feet into the air, rotting them so thoroughly at their base that a
rare wind or perhaps only a man leaning against them will bring them crashing
down. And Guadalcanal stank. She was sour with the odor of her own decay,
her breath so hot and humid, so sullen and so still that all those hundreds
of thousands of Americans who came to her during the ensuing three years of
war cursed and swore to feel the vitality oozing from them in a steady stream
of enervating sweat.'
LAMB: Did you get malaria?
LECKIE: Oh, yes. Did you ask me if I was married?
LAMB: No, if you had malaria.
LECKIE: Nine times, and I had dengue, which is much worse--and I got that
in a hospital. Dengue is called breakbone fever. It's as though your bones
are in a vice and someone is turning the vice. You can't even take water.
Your spleen becomes distended. You do nothing but vomit bile, so they
have--if you were in the jungle, you'd certainly die. But they had to feed
you in--intravenously and maybe it's just as well that I got it in the
hospital. But, yeah, the malaria doesn't compare to it.
LAMB: How long were you over in the Pacific theater?
LECKIE: Almost three years.
LAMB: Were you--you in Okinawa?
LECKIE: No, I wasn't in O--thank God.
LECKIE: Because next to Iwo and Palau, that was a shot-for-shot,
step-for-step battle, chiefly because the Japanese had changed their
top--tactics. Now from Guadalcanal and out to the jungle islands and so on,
the Japanese military doctrine was destruction of the enemy at the water's
edge, and the tactic they used was what we call the banzai charge. It was at
night. They always attacked at night, no matter where, even with the new
tactics, to negate our great superiority in artillery and in naval gunfire.
So they would attack at night, and sometimes if they were near homeland or in
a base like Guam, which was a Japanese liquor locker, sometimes they were
drunk and they would come--and they would come banging their bayonets and
their canteens, screaming what they thought were bloodthirsty oaths,
`Japanese boy eat American boy's blood,' `US Marine, you be dead tomorrow.'
What a lot of nonsense because, you see, they were shocked by the obscenities
that greeted them because nobody can swear, as you may know, like US Marines.
And so that was the battle tactic, and it always broke their back.
LAMB: Okinawa--the Battle of Okinawa happened what date?
LECKIE: At the--at the end. The f--the first time it was discovered was
in the Battle of Biak off the coast of New Guinea. There--there was a very
good commander there. He didn't want anymore what they c--the good Japanese
commanders called bamboo spear tactics. So he invented the tactic of delay,
defense in-depth, what was simply an a--ambush. So he made a monster steel
cheese of the air force--of the airfield that was the objective. And this
army regiment practically strolled into it because there had been no
resistance. But when they hit the airfield, they were pinned to the ground,
and they could only be redrawn at night by amtracs pulling them up through the
bottom. Now that tactic was repeated again in much greater depth at Palau.
I was at Palau. I got--that was the end of combat for me. Ten seven--and
they had the same thing, only Palau was a--a drowned mountain heaved above
the sea, coral...
LAMB: What--what was the date on Palau?
LECKIE: September 10th, 1944.
LECKIE: Yeah. Right.
LAMB: And Okinawa was then April 1st, 1945?
LECKIE: Right. '45, yes. Right. And that tactic was developed and used
again on Iwo, which is February of 1945, and brought to a fruition and
perfection on Okinawa because Ushijima wisely decided not to resist at the
LAMB: The--the Japanese general.
LECKIE: Yes, right. He was commander of the Japanese 32nd Army--110,000
men. He decided not to defend at the water's edge--edge and the greatest
naval bombardment in history fell harmlessly on Haguchi beaches. The only
person that was hurt in the invasion was a Marine who shot his finger off.
LAMB: That was the l...
Mr. LECKIE ...so then the Marines went up north and they had--it was terrible
terrain, but it was lightly defended, and the Army--24th Corps--four
divisions and there were three Marine divisions, but one was--the second was
our floating reserve off the southern beaches. Once they turned right, the
Army, they came into the worst kind of fighting. These were east-west ridges,
what is called crosshatch fighting. There are no passes, shallow plains, open
plains, shallow rivers and so on--nothing but coral, east-west from the East
China Sea to the Pacific Ocean.
LAMB: Let me ask you, before we get into the Okinawa battle itself, about
your career. And you say you've written some 40 books.
LAMB: And in the beginning of your book, they're listed: history,
autobiography, belles letters, fiction and then for younger readers.
LAMB: Have you made a living off of writing books?
LECKIE: Yeah. I still can drink first-growth wines. That's one of the
purposes, you know.
LAMB: Which book that you've sold has sold the most?
LECKIE: You know, this one, which is the smallest, might have. But I
think maybe "Helmet for My Pillow" might have because it--my God, it had 15
different jackets and was printed all over the world and it was anthologized
all over the world. The war ….
LAMB: What was it? "Helmet for My Pillow"?
LECKIE: It was my own experiences, a narrative that came out in
1957--September 1957. And I would think that "Delivered from Evil," which is
"The--The Saga of World War II," is still in print, and that came out in '86,
I think. "The Wars of America" has been updated three times, and--and that's
1609 to 1991. And this one I am astonished at the exposure and the response.
LECKIE: Because people are writing to me, calling me up, putting me on
shows like this. I have been on sh--these shows before, but not so often, and
I think it's because these people who fought on Okinawa really fought a
terrific battle, especially the sailors, on picket duty, you know, with the
LAMB: How many American soldiers and--Marines and Army and Navy, were
involved in Okinawa?
LECKIE: Yeah. Oh. The biggest ever. Five hundred and--545,000. But
the most incredible feat is this: At so-called D-Day, Normandy, Ike didn't
have anything approaching that number. He had absolute air superiority,
though, and he had so--so--4,300 craft, but those were not all oceangoing
ships by any means, and he only had 20 miles to cover. But the
Americans--don't forget in the Allied Forces, there were British and there
were Poles and there were free French and renegade Italians, and so on. Our
assaulting force was 180,000; Ike's was 150,000. But as a feat of naval
skill, most of these ships sortied from Seattle and San Francisco, going
almost 8,000 miles to the battle, and they all got there on the appointed day.
That is a feat of seamanship never equalled. And the reason for this is that,
you know, prior to 1950, we were all in a sense--not 1950--prior to the war,
we were all, in a sense, displaced Europeans, not like we are now. And the
focus on Europe is understandable because of that and also because of the very
attractive personality of Ike. I would not say that MacArthur's duplicated
that in any way. I mean, you always wanted to ask him what he did on the
seventh day. And--yes.
LAMB: You say--I wrote this down--you--at one time you referred to
the typical MacArthian selfishness.
LECKIE: Oh, yes. Terrible.
LAMB: You did--you get a sense when you read your book you didn't like him.
LECKIE: I admired him at first--I admired him at first when I joined the
Marines and so on and so forth, but as Ike said, he would see no other sun in
the heavens. When he was approached by the first president of the Philippines
and asked--you know, after he had resigned after his second tour, unheard
of--it wasn't actually completed, but he--never before except in wartime had a
chief--chief of staff been asked to have a second tour. He was asked
by--Marcos--he was asked by the president--no, it wasn't Marcos. He was asked
by the president of the Philippines if he thought the Philippines were
defensible, and what he said--he was about to retire. He said, `Do I think
it's defensible?' He says--he says, `I think it's more than that. I think
That's ridiculous. Surrounded by water, estuaries, lagoons and everything,
absolutely everywhere vulnerable to invasion from the sea. And so he became
the marshal of the Philippines. And he--because he didn't have the money, he
developed a fleet of mosquito boats. Well, mosquito boats can't fight on the
open ocean, on the high seas. They sink. It's--they're just not--they're
just not built for it. And he was--oh, he would never fall in with anyone
else's plan or anything else, like the so-called Orange plan under which the
US Navy and a--a holding force was to hold the Philippines while the US Navy rushed to the rescue. Eisenhower--not Eisenhower--Ike
authorized and knew that plan, but when he went to the Philippines he scuttled
it. And--and when Admiral Nimitz--I can go on and on, but I'm not going to.
But--but when Admiral Nimitz generously loaned him the 11th Fleet which was to
be returned--for Okinawa--I don't know if it was the 11th. I'm not sure.
I--but anyhow, I think it was the 11th. But when he was asked to return it to
sucker those--the--the--the 38s--the Task Force 38 off Okinawa, he
deliberately committed it to a useless campaign.
LAMB: Let me ask you about your technique on this book. There are no notes
in the back, there's no bibliography.
LAMB: There's no--there are--from--footnotes, but they don't refer to any
LECKIE: No. No. That's what my editor wanted. All the other books are
footnoted. They're not--most of the other books in the beginning were
footnoted and with a bibliography and everything, as you're supposed to do,
but this has no bibliography, no foot--he didn't want it. And it's selling
better. Maybe that's telling me something.
LAMB: Why is it?
LECKIE: Well, I would imagine that the I don't know, but I
would imagine that the ordinary reader is more satisfied with a--a smaller
book and doesn't--and thinks that the footnotes and the bibliography is--are
pedantic and boring and they don't like it.
LAMB: On that note, let--let's go to the very end of the book, when you talk
about the generals committing...
LECKIE: Oh, yeah.
LECKIE: Oh, yes. Yeah. Oh, you mean Fujijima and Cho.
LAMB: Yeah. These were the two leaders on Okinawa for the Japanese.
LECKIE: Right. Cho was the equal of--or was actually the exact opposite
of--named Yohara, very calm and careful and considerate and scientific. Cho
was the founder of the Cherry Society, was even--was even considering
LAMB: But let me ask you about definitions, because you mentioned
earlier--what's a samurai?
LECKIE: A samurai?
LECKIE: That was a professional soldier, trained in the days of the
Shoguns, who were the r--real rulers of Japan. And they--see, they were the
sons of middle-class, professional soldiers, and they were trained to know
neither joy nor pain, and they were to serve the Shoguns to the end. And the
badge of their rank was the--the two-handed saber--what we call the samurai
sword, but that's the modified one. After the new warlords took charge in
China about--right after --not China, Japan, right about the time of
World War I. And they--they had the right to kill anyone doing something
different, and they were the shock troops, in a sense. And they had very
particular style of headdress and you--and robe and so on and so forth.
LAMB: But at the end--now I'm jumping to the end because I want you to--be
interested to know how you know all this--you know, the little--the details on
the--the sheet and all that--that--when they decided to kill themselves.
LAMB: And they--they'd lost...
LECKIE: Yeah. And they went--the two of them...
LAMB: I mean, is this the way all...
LECKIE: Yes. Oh, they--they had--they had...
LAMB: ...all the Japanese generals did it?
LECKIE: Oh, yes. They had a feast and the--the authority for this is the
cook--I forget his name; it's probably here in a footnote--and--and they
dressed in their ceremonial robes and they had the--the word `harakiri'--it
means `stomach cutting'--and they had the ceremonial knife...
LAMB: We say --I mean, they--the American says hara-kiri. Is
this--the--the term `hara-kiri'--I mean, that's the Americanized...
LECKIE: Well, at first it's hara-kiri...
LECKIE: ...then--it's changed so often. But it seems to come out finally
as harakiri. I--I'm not--I'm not even sure of that. But anyway, they were
prepared and they b--had a--like, almost like a prayer rug of a Muslim.
They were dressed in white. They made the ceremonial bow to the emperor.
They sat down, crossed their legs. Before it, they had a dinner of the most
magnificent foods left, which wasn't much. A lot of sake and--but canned
foods and so on and so forth. And now the man thrusts the knife into his
stomach and turns it, and if the pain becomes exquisite so that he will faint,
someone is always standing behind him, either with a revolver or a samurai
sword, either to cut off his head, sever his spinal column or put one through
his brain, and that's what usually happened, because it...
LAMB: How--how often during the war did the Japanese general do that?
LECKIE: All the time. All the time. All the time. All the time. I
even had a friend who, in the s--in the--when I lived in Mountain Lakes, New
Jersey, who was--had been a Marine and he had what he thought were really the
horns of the--you know, that legendary beast--the--the single horn--he...
LECKIE: Unicorn. And he actually did that. Of course, he was probably
drunk, and they also --some of them were probably drunk. They were great
drinkers, the Japanese.
LAMB: How many Americans were killed on Okinawa?
LECKIE: Twelve thousand five hundred c--casual--I have the casualties
right here, exactly, on both sides. OK. Let's see.
LAMB: And roughly how many Japanese died?
LECKIE: Well, 100,000 were killed and, strangely enough,
what-cha-ma-call-it--10,000 surrendered. That was unusual. That was a
LAMB: You even have a picture in here of the...
LECKIE: Yes. Yes. Yes.
LAMB: ...of the Japanese being guarded by only one American soldier.
LECKIE: Yes. Right. Yeah. Yeah. Roughly 100,000 --100,000 dead and,
surprisingly, another 10,000 captured. American casualties totaled 49,151;
Marine losses at 29,038, dead or missing and 13,708 wounded. The Army had
4,675 and 18,099 wounded; and the Navy, 4,907 and 4,824. There was little
left of Japanese airpower. Losses of between 3,000 and 4,000 planes. That
LAMB: What was...
LECKIE: Nineteen hundred of them kamikaze.
LAMB: And a kamikaze--again, you talked about it being a young man...
LECKIE: Yeah. Right.
LAMB: ...just could fly to get to the target.
LECKIE: Just to get to the target. Yeah.
LAMB: And was committed to commit suicide.
LECKIE: Well, it--in Japan it seems that any failure has to be
a--a--something has to pro--in a failure--has to be propitiated by the failure
of the failure, and for them to have flocked to this thing, in the beginning,
is not surprising. But after that, towards the end, they had a lot of
returns. I mean, s--a lot of them knew how to return. And I even wrote an
introduction to a book called "I Was a Kamikaze."
LAMB: Well, when--when you were in Guadalacanal, in the three years you were
over there in the Pacific, did you see yourself kamikazes diving on carriers?
LECKIE: Oh, no. That didn't come until the Philippines and then Okinawa,
because all the other battles were in the fort, of course. Right.
LAMB: So kamikazes came at the end.
LECKIE: That's right. That's right. And--jeez, what the sailors
went through under--underwent was--oh, they were on a--what was called a--a
radar picket line. They were all destroyers and they were in a circle around
Okinawa, and their mission was to give warning of the approach of the enemy
aircraft, not only the--the kamikaze, but the conventional fighter aircraft,
the Zeroes, the di--the dive-bombers and the two-engine Betty bombers. But
they were the prime targets of the kamikaze and so, you know, they--it was
awful. I mean, it--it was scourge--hundreds of kamikaze and the bockelbomb,
which was called the `foolish bomb,' because it was piloted by a man that's
hurt nobody. And it w--was faster than a bullet, so it couldn't be seen, but
it never worked.
LAMB: At the end of your book, you--you get into this controversy over
whether or not the bomb should have been dropped.
LECKIE: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: Why did you decide to get into it?
LECKIE: I didn't decide to get into it because I've been trying to tell
the truth for 40 years. And I went on a program last night and everybody's
insisting that the atomic bombs--we only had two of them--compelled Japan to
surrender. But I trust Harry Truman anytime--anytime. Honest. I don't care
what anybody says, I loved that guy because he had true, raw courage.
And I s--was on a program last night and somebody questioned me and s--when I
said that Harry Truman had formed what was called the US Strategic Bombing
Survey to assess the effects of Allied bombing in World War II. And this man
said, `Well, Roosevelt started that,' but I don't know how he could have
started it because he died April 6th, I think, but--something like that, and
the Germans didn't surrender till May and there was no way we could have
assessed the effects of--of Allied bombing. He may put it--have put it in
motion, but it was Truman who really did it.
Anyway, this survey declared: "Based on a detailed investigation of surviving
Japanese leaders involved, it is the survey's opinion that certainly prior to
31st December, 1945, and in all probability prior to 1st November, 1945, Japan
would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if
Russia had not entered the war, even if no invasion had been planned or
contemplated," unquote. I mean, no judgment could be more unequivocal.
LAMB: You quote a letter that Harry Truman wrote to his sister in which he
said it was a terrible decision.
LECKIE: Oh, yes, I know that.
LAMB: Where did you get the letter? I mean, that's the letter you quoted in
LECKIE: Well, I have his memoirs.
LAMB: And when did he write that to his sister? Do you remember?
LECKIE: After he made the decision, after he was no longer president.
LAMB: And when he said it was a terrible decision, did he mean it was a bad
LECKIE: Oh, no. No. What he meant was it was a terrible--a--a
heartrending decision to have made. But, I mean, the things that this enemy
did that--I mean, what do you think they would have done if they ha--had
atomic weapons? I mean, it's like--have you ever played handball? Yeah.
Well, you know some guys who collar--holler, `Hinder'? Well, the answer to
that--I played with world champions. I'm not nearly as good as a--Pat Kirby.
I saw him one time turn around to the guy and he said, `What would you have
said if you had killed the ball?' You know what I mean?
LAMB: Now where--where do you live now?
LECKIE: I live in Byram township, New Jersey, in the boondocks.
LAMB: What--what do you think of--of all this writing you've done? I mean,
has it been fun?
LECKIE: Oh, I think I've made a contribution and I'm pleased with it and
I intend to continue. I--that's the great thing about mental skills, if you
have them, as opposed to physical skills. Mental s--skills improve, unless
you get Alzheimer's or something like that or you drink too much or whatever,
but physical spills--skills, after so many years, begin to deteriorate.
LAMB: How big a family do you have?
LECKIE: Three. I was the youngest of eight, though.
LAMB: And how old are your--how old is your family?
LAMB: Boys? Girls?
LECKIE: Two boys and a girl. My brother, Jeff, is one of the finest
artists in America. My son, Jeff, the oldest boy--sounds like Alzheimer's,
doesn't it? But it's just old age. And he just finished decorating the
castle in Limerick of the famous financier Peter Lynch. And he's done very
well. He's about 44, very handsome, unlike his father.
LAMB: What about your other two kids?
LECKIE: Joan is a teacher of--high school teacher of Spanish.
She goes to Spain almost every year. She's a fluent speaker, native
speaker. And David is running and buying out his children--the
handball-racquetball-health club that my wife and I opened 26 years ago, and
he's buying his brother and sister out.
LAMB: So you run a--your own handball court?
LECKIE: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: That's what you did beside write books?
LECKIE: Yeah, right. I did it--I had s--a T-shirt made, and on the back
of it, it said `We die in shape.' And then people would say, `Wait a minute.
You play handball and you drink'? I said, `Well, you know, I play handball,
so I can continue to dissipate. What do you think, you know?'
LAMB: And now when you write--how do you do it? How do you gather the
information? Where do you do this?
LECKIE: Well, it's like anything else. One thing stands on the shoulders
of another. So if I do research in, let us say, the Colonial Wars and then I
do research on the Revolutionary War and then the 1812 and Mexico and the
m--Indians and so on. It--it keeps building and you keep the notes and you
buy the books. I don't--I--I buy everything I can because then I have all the
sources at my hands. So I have about 4,000 or 5,000 books, almost all on
military history, also on theology and religion because I--that was my first
LAMB: I noticed that some of the books that you've written--"A Soldier Priest
Talks to Youth"...
LAMB: ...you have one called "Ordained."
LAMB: There are others here that have to do with the--the Catholic Church.
LECKIE: Catholic--Catholic Church in America.
LECKIE: And a study of the saints.
LAMB: ...what's the source of all that? When did you write those? Why?
LECKIE: Well, we--I went to parochial schools and--and I went to Fordham
after the war, but as I said before, I never liked the classroom.
LAMB: Did you graduate from Fordham?
LECKIE: No. No way. I went to Buffalo with the AP, and besides, I--I--I
honestly never liked it. Very frankly, I'll tell you, most of the time--I was
kicked out of high school fairly regularly. And--and I would go down to the
Passaic River with my dog and smoke cigarettes and watch the oil barge
traffic, you know. They don't like to hear that because they--though it's
the truth, isn't it? I'm telling you, the mavericks--look at--what--gee,
what's his name? Robert Warrick--do you remember him? He went to the--I
think, North Carolina. All he did was stay in his room and read novels and he
did very well.
LAMB: Now over the years, how have you sold yourself? Now this is a Viking
LAMB: Have you always written for Viking?
LECKIE: No. Began with Random House, and my editor there was Bob Loomis,
and it was his first book and my first book. And it was "Helmet for my
Pillow" and then I did "Strongmen Armed" and a thing about growing up, "Lord,
What a Family," and then I--Doubleday, World, Harper--so--so many different
ones. And then Viking is my f--this is my first book with Viking. Yeah. But
they don't do much military history. Yeah.
LAMB: And--and--and what--when you--what--what--you told us what books did
the best. Which books did you enjoy the most?
LECKIE: "Helmet for my Pillow" and "Strongmen Armed."
LAMB: How long did it take you to write this book?
LECKIE: This one?
LECKIE: I'm look--we--three months.
LAMB: Three months?
LECKIE: Yeah. Yeah. That's only 55,000 words. The other books
are--and--and don't forget, I've researched in the wars of America and
"Strongmen Armed" and, as I say, these things stand on the shoulders and you
don't destroy your notes. But when I did, let us say, "World War II,"
that--"Deli--Delivered From Evil," that took between two and three years.
"Wars of America" also, but I kept updating that, so it could possibly be
four--three or four. But the point is, if you're going to do a subject, you
must master it, and if you're going to write 50,000 or 100,000, you've got to
master it. So it really doesn't make that much difference in the length of
the research and if it is in a particular field, like military history, as I
said before, one book stands on the shoulders of the other. And this is all
almost exclusively American military history, except that one book, "Warfare,"
which is a study of war, and it's a small book.
LAMB: In the end, how many copies of this book do you think will sell?
LECKIE: I don't--it's hard to say. I would say in hardcover it might
sell as many as 30,000, which is big.
LAMB: And--it's big?
LECKIE: Oh, yeah. Yeah. It is big. It is big, because books--this book
is $25 and, you know, that means for me--the--the standard contract is 10
percent of the retail price for the first 5,000 copies, 10--12 1/2 percent of
the retail price for the next 5,000 and then 15 percent for all over 10,000.
But you make more money in the paperback if it's a mass paperback, you know.
But as I said before, I can still drink first-growth wines.
LAMB: What is your--in your opinion, what's the secret to your success in
having 40 books?
LECKIE: I want to tell you, I came from a cultivated family. My father
was a--a advertising and sales promotion manager for Joseph Cruc--Joseph Dixon
Crucible Company, and he named all those famous pencils--Ticonderoga and so on
and so forth. And he was very proud that every year the AP would put out a
story--something they haven't ruined yet and always number one was Ticonderoga
No. 2. He's--he's dead, of course. He would have loved that. But he was a
very cultivated man, and he had a big library and there were dictionaries and
encyclopedias all over the house and it--it was an intellectual atmosphere and
you have a head start. I this may sound sententious or--or put-on or
affected, but I always wanted to be a writer since I can remember. So, I
mean, there was a--a s--a blackboard in the kitchen, you know, before I went
to school and things like that, you know. So that--I never--I wanted to be a
writer until I realized--and this sounds pretentious--that books were not the
works of nature or of God but of men and women, and then I was--I was writing
poetry since I was 12 or 13.
LAMB: What's the atmosphere in which you write?
LECKIE: Preferably a blank wall, but--oh, that's the best scenery for a
writer--better for an artist, but not for a writer.
LAMB: A blank wall?
LAMB: You mean you face a blank wall?
LECKIE: Sure. I have a lovely study, but once you're into it, I
mean, it doesn't make any difference. But the difficulty is cranking up the
machine, getting it started. You can sit there for hours, actually, because
if you go past that, where you're at an impasse, you have to go back to it.
You have to go back to it. And every morning or afternoon, whenever your
write, you have to go up and shoot that old bear under your desk between the
eyes. That's right. And you have to have enormous discipline, especially if
you like your drink. I know so many good writers who went down the drain. If
you like to drink, you can't do it. It's a reward. It should never be a
LAMB: So what time of day do you do it?
LECKIE: It depended in the start on my family, and I would always do
it--my wife would get up earlier and feed them, put them off to school and I
would exercise, play handball and so on in the morning, as I said, to exercise
with an E and an O, to stay in shape and to exercise with an O, the devil
booze. But I would always start writing about 1 until 5 or 6. Now I only
write about 1 until 3.
LAMB: And do you write longhand?
LECKIE: No, typewriter. And I can't use those dreadful things they
call word processors.
LAMB: Still have that Royal that your wife gave you and...
LECKIE: Oh, yeah. Yeah. But it disappeared long ago because I did a lot
of writing. But I wrote my first three books on it. But I have four
typewriters, you know. They don't make them anymore. No. And I tried to get
the so-called word processor, and when I write, I put my hands on the keyboard
to think. Well, what the hell--that sends the thing crazy, and if you have a
power outage--say you've got three months in that thing--pow. I'm serious.
So I decided, no, that's not for me. I'm not of this age. I have the finest
mind of the 13th century. This is not my century. I mean, people talk of the
Internet and so on--I don't care about that kind of stuff.
LAMB: How do you like it when you go around to this kind of stuff?
LAMB: Interviewing. Do you--do you like to be interviewed? Television
interviews? Radio interviews? I mean, is--what do you think of that part of
LECKIE: Well, I--I--I enjoy that because it's a form of recognition, and
I--I--and I say I do enjoy it. And I--and I love doing what I'm doing and I
always wanted to do it and it's wonderful. I was at Kiawah Island--we had a
house--you ever--you heard of Kiawah.
LECKIE: OK. All right. We had a house down there for 13 years and it
was--Kiawah is lovely. It's beautiful. And it's not like--like, say,
Vanderbilt Village, Florida, which is also beautiful, but it's manicured.
Kiawah is natural beauty and so on, and so many of these retired executives,
doctors, lawyers and so on would say to me, `You know, you're really lucky.'
I said, `I know it.' They said, `You have something to do.' They said, `All
we can do is play golf or bridge and drink.' You see, you shouldn't retire if
LAMB: How much longer do you intend to write books?
LECKIE: Well, my mother lived to be 87, my father lived to be 85, my
brother, John, who was 14 years older than me, just died of--a couple of weeks
ago. He was 88. So...
LAMB: And how old are you now? Seventy-five?
LECKIE: Seventy-four. I'll be 75 in December.
LAMB: Are you working on your next book?
LECKIE: Yeah. I'm doing a series of novels for Torah, a branch of St.
Martin's Press: "Americans at War." It will taken--take the fighting Flynn
family through all the wars. I began this book more than 15 years ago for New
American Library, but then somebody who was a higher-up in New American
Library--I did three of them--gave an unknown--an unpublished author an
advance--listen to this--$850,000 and the exodus from NEA--N-A-L, as it was
called, was enormous. And I just quit. I mean, I--I had four editors on one
book. It was terrible.
It's now owned by Viking and it's quite different but I'm doing these for a
different outfit and--and it's--it's--it's some--a--a good change of pace, you
know? I mean, I love to write. But I--and I love--you can't turn a phrase
very well in fiction. I mean, in--in--in fact--in history. Goddam. You
cannot turn a phrase very well in fiction, but, in fact, in history, you can.
Do you know what I mean? You know? I--let's say somebody like Churchill--he
was--a woman came up to him--and he was a master of repartee, as you
know--and--and a woman came up to him--him and she said, `Winston, you're
drunk.' And he said, `Bessie, you're ugly. But tomorrow, I shall be sober.'
Do you understand what I mean? You can do that in dialogue, maybe, but to
turn fiction--like the thing I read to you, you can't do that in fiction
because--You know what?--the editor will write in--in--in the margin, `purple
LAMB: Of all the--and--and you've got a book here on George Washington...
LAMB: ...and the sage of the s...
LECKIE: Well, that's George Washington's war, the Revolution.
LAMB: Yeah. You've got one on the American Civil War. You've got a book
here on the saga of World War II, on and on. Of all the people you've written
LAMB: ...in the--in the last--How many years?--20, 30 years...
LECKIE: Been a long time--long time.
LAMB: ...50--50 years, who do you admire the most?
LECKIE: Who do I admire the most? You know, it's a funny thing.
LAMB: Who would you like for...
LECKIE: I--I--I may--I may not surprise you, but who do I admire the
most as an American?
LAMB: Just--the kind of people you've been writing about...
LECKIE: Or--or for--for the world--for the history of the world.
LAMB: ...that you--all the people you've written about, who did you--who
would you have liked to have met that you wrote about?
LECKIE: I liked Harry Truman among living presidents that were in my
so--same era. I also admired George Washington. I admired--although he was a
prince--Thomas Edison. Think of the things he did. Think of what he did. He
lighted the world--movies, film, every--you know, so many things. And he was
irascible as--as could be. But so what? He--he--he achieved, really. James
Madison, the author of our Constitution. He was a political genius. It's
always being ascribed to Thomas Jefferson, but that just isn't so. It was
Madison. Little guy, huge...
LAMB: Are you--are you political yourself?
LECKIE: No. No. I--no, no. I do not--no, I do not admire politicians.
But I do admire politicians who become statesmen. They--something happens in
the presidency that alters--should alter--a man's attitude. He is no longer a
political animal. But that doesn't happen too frequently.
LAMB: Have you met any of these folks that--did you ever meet Harry Truman or
Dwight Eisenhower or Douglas MacArthur?
LECKIE: Well, I met Truman once when I was a newspaper man in Buffalo,
when he defeated Dewey and he had that big headline, you know, `GOP Wins White
House.' He's got a big grin on his face, showing it to the crowd--'48 and
I--he came to Buffalo and I covered him. He was on that whistle-stop, you
know? I never met anybody else. I don't--I don't seek the company of
LAMB: We'll go back to this book on--"Okinawa: The Last Battle of World War
II." Once in a while you get some glimpse in here what you thought of the
LECKIE: The Japanese soldier was a very brave man. Don't let anyone
tell you differently. But he was very badly led. He was also extremely
cruel. You know, the defect of the virtue of bravery is often cruelty. And
I'll give you an ex--I--did I give you an example about New Britain? No. All
right. I'll give you an example. On Guadalacanal, the Japanese captured a
Marine and they tied him to a tree and they had their medical corpsman there
and they gave a lecture in vivisection. Vivisection. Yeah, that's right.
And this comes from a diary. They were inveterate diarists. And the--and the
Japanese medic said--wrote in his diary, `It was the most interesting lecture
I ever attended.'
And then on New Britain I had a buddy named Sticky Davis--I think that was his
name--and he was a flanker as we marched from one place to another. That's a
great jungle there, you know. And s--somehow they captured him. They tied
him to a tree, too. And when we found him he had 33 bayonet wounds in his
body, plus his Marine tattoo stuffed in his mouth, followed by his penis.
I don't know--no. I do not admire them at all. I think they're savage and
primitive. And they're just as primitive and savage in their economic warfare
as they were in their military warfare. And you know the--the--the record;
jeez, those fellows--John Keegan--and he wrote a summary of--in the London
Times and, you know--terrible and I'm sure you've seen the--the articles
in The New York Times or The Washington Post, whatever, of this phony science.
They took a man and put him in a huge glass capsule and cut him vertically and
wanted to see what made him tick and so on and so forth. They were going to
disc--they did discover that biological warfare could be used against American
cities but the whole point is, how were they going to deliver it? There's no
way they could have carried it across 7,000 miles of ocean.
LAMB: What's their weakness?
LAMB: What, in your opinion, is the Japanese weakness?
LECKIE: Weakness is that they're still tribal. They're still tribal.
They changed overnight. I--I wrote in--in my book "Delivery From Evil," a--a
study of--of the Japanese people and overnight they changed from being tribal,
with their samurai authorized to, you know, kill anyone who's doing anything
different, to Westernized. It was almost comical. They wore top hats, frock
coats and so on. And, of course, they're small people and it was almost
comical. They absolutely changed from a hermetical, tribal people trying to
be Western. But I don't think, down deep, that they changed very much from
the samurais, they merely changed to thought police.
LAMB: One last thing. You write about Ernie Pyle in this book.
LECKIE: Oh, he was the best.
LAMB: And Er--who was Ernie Pyle, for someone that has never heard of him?
LECKIE: Ernie Pyle was the most famous war corespondent in World War II.
He was the bravest and the most compassionate and he never went behind the
lines like the great `I am,' Ernest Hemingway. Everybody's--when I was
writing "World War II," my editor said, `Are you going to put in Hemingway
liberating Paris?' I said, `I'd kill myself first because he never liberated
Paris.' Ike had the good sense to listen to de Gaulle and he had the French
liberate Paris. The showman Hemingway would go out during the day in his Jeep
but go back to a hotel behind the lines and drink brandy and tell stories and
so on. Pyle was always with the troops. It's a shame that he couldn't have
stayed longer with the Marines.
LAMB: Where was he killed?
LECKIE: Yayshima--where the Japanese, before it was overrun by us,
eight--downed American pilots.
LAMB: And where's Yayshima?
LECKIE: Off Okinawa.
LAMB: How far off?
LECKIE: Fifty miles, something like that. I don't know.
LAMB: You devote in here three different photos to the Ernie Pyle story
and here's a photo right here of the actual burial.
LECKIE: Yes. Yeah. It--it was a sniper--no. Well, no, it was a
machine-gunner and he was with a company commander in a Jeep and they went into
a ditch; he lifted his head up out of the service and right--above his, you
know--and right between the--in the forehead. He--he wrote a most moving
story about the burial of a captain--he had a Polish name--and he--an Army
captain and the troops were really diverted--diverted--devoted to him. It
was really great. Really great. He was good. He was the best.
LAMB: Do you--anybody in today's media world--would the soldiers be devoted?
LECKIE: No, I don't think so. Because--for one thing, World War II was
told. Everybody was in it so that the writings of these correspondents were
famous. Oh, the guy with the AP; he was good, too. Jesus--I did a book
with--oh, what the--oh--big guy. It's the trouble. I don't have Alzheimer's.
But I--it's old age. But anyway, his name was Boyle--Harold--Hal Boyle. He
was another of the great ones. He was with AP and he was much like Pyle in
his habits. And he was very good. And, of course, their--their--their
reports and--and articles were in the public press day after day after day and
they were famous. But neither of them, Boyle or Ernie Pyle, went home. And
when Pyle--when World War II was over in Europe, Pyle went to the Pacific with
LAMB: Here's what the cover of the book looks like. The subject is "Okinawa:
The Last Battle of World War II." And our guest has been Robert Leckie.
Thank you very much.
LECKIE: Thank you.
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